FIA RALLY NEWS 

COMING EVENT - 48th Rally d´Italia Sardegna (19-21 May 2006)


7th round out of 16 in the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship, 5th round out of ninth in the 2006 FIA Junior World Rally Championship

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
RALLY D'ITALIA SARDEGNA
Media FIA Pre-event Press Conference
18.05.2006

Present:
Luca Betti - JWRC
Urmo Aava - JWRC
Gigi Galli
Harri Rovanperä – Red Bull-Škoda Team
Matthew Wilson – Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Petter Solberg – Subaru World Rally Team
Daniel Sordo
Marcus Grönholm – BP-Ford World Rally Team

Welcome to the Pre-event FIA Press Conference of Rally d’Italia Sardegna.

Joining us there are two drivers of the JWRC, Luca Betti driving a Renault Clio and Urmo Aava driving a Suzuki Swift. Luca, Urmo: welcome to both of you.

Q:
Luca, if we start off with you. What is it like to be competing on your home round of the WRC?
LB:
It is not so near to my home in Monte Carlo but my friends are here and also Italian people that came. I hope it will be good for us.

Q:
You’re currently third in the JWRC, just two points behind the joint leaders P.G. Andersson and Patrick Sandell. Is your aim here going to be to try to win the rally, or move ahead of them in the points table?
UA:
Of course, to win is important. Everybody is trying to win.

Q: Luca, how competitive is the JWRC compared to last year? Is it tougher than in 2006 or a bit easier?
LB:
This year’s JWRC is as competitive as last year even though we’ve lost some good drivers, like Sordo who is now in the WRC. But there are other drivers, like Sandell, who are very good. It is very difficult to win because there are a lot of drivers to look out for and to fight.

Q:
How well suited is this rally to two-wheel drive cars? We saw a very strong performance from the Suzuki Swift in Argentina, so do you think that it will be good on the gravel of Sardinia?
UA:
It seems to be possible, but to win it doesn’t mean everything. We hope to be much better than last year. We hope to be very fast.

Q: Luca, what are your personal objectives on this event? You’re still waiting for your first victory in the JWRC – do you think that you will be able to achieve it here?
LB:
I think that it is not easy to win but we’ll try to take the lead. We were very close to the podium in both Catalunya and Corsica and victory didn’t seem to be that far away. All the drivers that were ahead of us in Catalunya had some minor problems

Q:
Urmo, you came heartbreakingly close to victory in Corsica. Are you out for revenge now?
UA:
We try to be fast. We’d like to be fast and that’s all!

Thank you both of you best luck for the rally

Q:
Gigi, you managed a fantastic achievement by taking your first podium in Argentina; can you do the same again here?
GG:
I think it will be more easy here!

Q:
Is it even possible to envisage winning this event on home territory?
GG:
Everything is possible. After Argentina we put in a lot of effort. There we knew the car, the race. Hopefully we can repeat the performance here.

Q:
How much confidence did the podium give to you?
GG:
It was a good feeling. What else can I say?

Q:
Argentina was another victory that slipped through your fingers Marcus. How much damage did that do to your Championship prospects? Do you feel that you have to win here now to maintain any chance of winning the title?
MG:
It is very difficult now as the gap is very big. We’ll try to do our best but there is a really great gap.

Q:
Does that mean that you absolutely need to win this rally?
MG:
Yeah, for sure we need to win.

Q:
You’ve said before that your only chance now is to go for outright victories. How confident do you feel about your chances of winning here? You tested in Greece before this event; have you found any improvements on the car to help you achieve that objective? Has it just been bad luck holding you back so far?
PS:
We are really doing everything to win, but you’ll see. We have tried a lot of things and they seem to be working very well.

Q:
Has it just been bad luck holding you back so far?
PS:
I think in Japan and Australia last year it was really bad luck and many other small factors that came into play. We really pushed hard for improvements and now many things can happen. Now everything will be ok.

Q:
What chances do you have to get on the podium Harri?
HR:
The podium is far away but it’s ok, we’ll see tomorrow and the day after and on Sunday. I hope to show you a good answer.

Q:
Matthew you won the last stage you competed on (Rally Argentina) and in doing so you also picked up you first drivers points; was that a case of starting as you mean to go on?
MW:
It was a great way to end the rally. Now if we can set the fastest time on a 30 km stage we’ll be very happy.

Q:
Another gravel rally Dani, how would you judge your progress on this surface so far? You were fourth in Mexico but you found Argentina more difficult. What do you expect from the rally d’Italia?
DS:
I did a good rally in Mexico. The first time in Argentina was very difficult but we were fast. In Sardinia many stages are new so we’ll have to see if we manage to be fast.

Q:
Do you expect the same results as last year?
DS:
I don’t know; it’s very difficult to foresee.

Q:
Gigi, this year the rally route is 50% new. What are the major differences that you can see?
GG:
The organisation in Sardinia did a very good job because they built some great new stages and reviewed others. In comparison to two years ago it is very different but they are doing better and better. The speed has to be not too high, but they did a great job.

Q:
Marcus, how worried are you about reliability? Have you solved all the problems you have experienced in the past?
MG:
I think it will be ok. We had just a small problem in the engine, but in the very last few days we had nothing so I think it’s going to be ok.

Q:
In Argentina there were two Pirelli-equipped cars on the podium. Do you think that Pirelli will have an advantage here?
PS:
There is an advantage for Pirelli. Pirelli tires in Italy: of course will be good, but we’ll find out for sure tomorrow.

Q:
What do you think Gigi: is there something special from Pirelli here?
GG:
They try to improve all the time for Sardinia. We have some new compound but I have tested nothing. I’ll let you know…

Q:
Harri, do you think this is a rally that could work well for you and Skoda?
HR:
We’ll try to do our best and drive fast tomorrow. We are pretty confident at this moment and you’ll see tomorrow.

Q:
Matthew, from what you can see of the rally on the recce, is it one you like?
A:
We improved our skills. It is the first time here so we will have to see.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR:

Martin Holmes (Martin Holmes Rallying, UK)

Q:
Gigi, why are you the only top Italian driver? Are the others afraid to be beaten by you or is it because of other reasons?
GG:
I think it is too expensive; this is the main problem. I think that when Fiat and Lancia were in the WRC it was better for some Italian drivers, but it is a combination of reasons. One more is that the sport does not yet get a lot of coverage on TV in Italy, so it is not that easy to find money to help. I received help by a big sponsor, Pirelli, but there is not really any other big chance to get big sponsors in Italy. It’s difficult to explain the exact reason. It is a combination of many things put together.

Rally Preview

The Rally d'Italia-Sardegna (18 - 21 May) provides the first opportunity for the BP-Ford World Rally Team to showcase the new generation Focus RS World Rally Car on a gravel event in Europe. Although the FIA World Rally Championship season is nearing the halfway point, with the Sardinia event being round seven of 16, remarkably this is the first European dirt rally of the campaign and the first of six in the series. The rally is based in the industrial town of Olbia, in the north of the island, and starts and finishes in Porto Cervo, one of Europe's most exclusive resorts. The gravel special stages contain a mix of narrow, twisty roads and fast and flowing tracks that put the event into the medium-fast category. A fine sandy surface masks a hard base beneath and the early starters will sweep the loose gravel clear to leave a cleaner driving line for those behind.

The route has changed considerably with four brand new stages. Fifty-two per cent of the competitive distance is new as organisers have dropped some of the narrowest and most twisty tracks in favour of more flowing roads. In addition the single service park returns to the port area in Olbia at Cala Saccaia while Thursday's ceremonial start moves back to the exclusive coastal town of Porto Cervo. The opening day on the gravel roads of the Nuoro area contains one new stage while Saturday's leg, a mix of tests used in 2004 and 2005, includes the long Monte Cerno stage and the spectacular 'camel humps' jump. The final leg north of Olbia includes two new tests in the Gallura area which were formerly used on the Costa Smeralda Rally. All three legs comprise three stages used twice and the 18 tests cover 344.94km in a route of 1140.18km.

The test sessions in Sardinia were very successful for Red Bull Skoda up until Monday afternoon. On Saturday, Harri Rovanpera spent a day at the wheel of the Fabia WRC, on Sunday it was Andreas Aigner’s turn. The team was able to test a lot of different suspension settings and tyres on both days. For Harri Rovanpera the first day was very positive as well, but on Monday the Finn slid off the road in one of the final test runs and rolled the Fabia WRC test car: “I came too close to the outside, there was plenty of loose gravel but unfortunately also a rock which destroyed the rim. Then the car rolled rather violently, thank goodness I suffered no injuries. Risto complained about a slight headache. Except for this incident our test was very informative, too.” The test sessions in Sardinia were very successful for Red Bull Skoda up until Monday afternoon. On Saturday, Harri Rovanpera spent a day at the wheel of the Fabia WRC, on Sunday it was Andreas Aigner’s turn. The team was able to test a lot of different suspension settings and tyres on both days.

Team Previews:

Manufacturer 1: Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team / Citroën Xsara WRC
1 Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena (F/MC)
2 Xavier Pons / Carlos del Barrio (E)

After the first six rounds of the 2006 FIA WRC, Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and the Kronos Total Citroën team stand in first place in both Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ championships thanks to four consecutive wins. To defend these positions and to try to extend its winning streak, the Belgian team enters in Sardinia two 2006 specifications Xsara WRCs for Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: Winner in 2005 and current leader of the Championship, Sébastien Loeb will start first on the road on Friday and will have to face the inevitable ‘road sweeping’ throughout the entire first loop comprising 65 competitive kilometres. “Usual strategy” has planned Seb . “And to be honest I only have one which is to start as fast as possible. After the first group of stages and on Friday night, we will see where we stand and what’s possible to try. In any case, I hope a fight for a win will still be possible…”

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: Xavier Pons has experienced various misfortunes over the past two gravel rounds. Having retired very early on a technical problem in Mexico, he had to stop during the first leg in Argentina after hitting something. Fortunately and thanks to the ‘superally’ regulations, he was able to compete in the next two legs and won his first world rally stage in difficult conditions. “For Xevi, the benefits were double” explained team principal Marc Van Dalen . “He could pile up kilometres on gravel and has set a fastest time, which will boost his confidence. He counts two participations in Sardinia and has also taken part in the pre-event tests… In a word, all the conditions are gathered for him to achieve a good result, important for him and for the team in the Manufacturers’ championship.”

Manufacturer 1: BP- Ford World Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC06
3 Marcus Grönholm / Timo Rautiainen (FIN)
4 Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN)

However, the Focus RS WRC has already shown its credentials on gravel rallies in Mexico and Argentina. Both Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen held top three places on the opening day in Mexico. And Grönholm led for much of the first leg in Argentina last month, going on to win more speed tests than any other driver. Although the Mediterranean holiday island is a relative newcomer to the championship (this is the rally's third year in the WRC), the characteristics of the Sardinian roads are well known by the BP-Ford drivers. Grönholm and Hirvonen competed there in 2004 and 2005 and both tested widely in two separate sessions there during the past six weeks.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: Thirty-eight-year-old Grönholm, who lies second in the drivers' championship, finished third in Sardinia last year. "The rally has a mix of everything," he said. "Some of the stages are quite tight while others are more open and faster. Quite a lot of the competitive distance is new for this year and I think these roads will be faster than the ones that have been dropped. It's not one of my favourite rallies but neither is it one that I really dislike. "It's important to score good points here and my target is clear - to win. The car has shown it is fast on gravel but my mistake in Mexico and a problem in Argentina meant that I didn't score the points I feel we deserved. But it's also important to remember that this is still a new car and we continue to fine-tune it as the season progresses. This will be the first time in competition in Sardinia with this Focus RS and I'm sure we will learn more about it during the event," added the Finn.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: Hirvonen surprised many in Sardinia last year by taking the challenge to world champion Sébastien Loeb in a privately-entered Focus RS on the opening leg - which he ended in third. "Last year was good for me until I made a mistake on the second day," said the 25-year-old Finn. "I had a good start position which meant the roads had been cleaned of gravel by the time I started the stages. I have a good start position again this year and I hope this will give me an advantage on the opening morning. I prefer the wider roads because when it's narrow and there are bushes and rocks close to the edge of the road, it's difficult to make pace notes. The temptation is to put as much as possible into the notes but then I find that there is too much in there. "The tyres will be important. I think it's going to be hot and the heat and hard roads mean that endurance will be vital. We have some new tyres available which will be good. It's not easy for BFGoodrich to improve its tyres because they are already very good, but I was pleased with these during the tests. They seem faster in every area," he added.

Manufacturer 1: Subaru World Rally Team / Subaru Impreza WRC 2006
5 Petter Solberg / Philip Mills (N/GB)
6 Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall (AUS)

The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two Impreza WRC2006s in Rally d’Italia Sardegna. One car will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) with the other by Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall). Subaru has a good record in Sardinia. In 1994 Piero Liatti scored the Group A Impreza’s first international victory on the Costa Smeralda Rally, a round of the Italian and European championships at the time. In 2004 Petter Solberg led Rally Sardinia from start to finish to take his sixth career win. He finished second on the event in 2005. Chris Atkinson starts his second Sardinian event. Last year he climbed as high as third overall, winning one stage.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: “I was very happy with my drive in Argentina. Okay, things could have been even better but I think we’re getting there. We tested in Greece last week and we’re making small steps in performance, plus the reliability is improving a lot. We have to prove now that when everything goes well, we can win. This is what the whole team wants, everybody. We need to win.”

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: “Sardinia is a challenge as it’s very technical and narrow and you have to drive cleanly to do well here. It’s a good drivers’ rally and I really enjoy it. Over half the route is new this year so a lot will depend on making good pace notes on the recce. My goal is a top five result. We set some good stage times last year and were running as high as third at one point, so there’s no reason why we can’t achieve this target.”

Manufacturer 2: OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team / Peugeot 307 WRC
7 Manfred Stohl / Ilka Minor (A)
8 Henning Solberg / Cato Menkerud (N)

The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team is good and ready for the next assignment in the FIA World Rally Championship, the “Rally d’Italia Sardegna“. Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor (Aut) and Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud (Nor) count on their excellence at drifting for the first gravel run on European terrain. Their goal is to not simply keep their positions in the World Championship (Stohl 4., Solberg 9.) but to improve them. The two OMV teams will furthermore try their all to climb up in the manufacture ranking, where they maintain a superior lead at the M2-teams and are also within striking distance to the M2-teams.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: “Sardinia is definitely not my favourite rally. It is a typical gravel rally but typically difficult. The roads are very narrow and very hard.“ Last year Stohl had been handicapped by food poisoning. He only completed part of the recce and finally finished in ninth overall place. But following fourth place in Argentina Stohl is sure that he should be able to reach the podium in Italy this year, as well. Stohl: “We were very close in Argentina. As far as speed is concerned we are up to it – which the two special stage best-times proved once more.“

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Kosti Katajamäki / Timo Alanne (FIN)

Youngest-ever WRC driver points scorer Matthew Wilson and the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team head to Sardinia this coming weekend for the sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally d’Italia Sardegna, with the aim of beating their last result of two cars in the top ten. Rally Argentina saw 19 year-old Cumbrian Wilson become the youngest driver to score a WRC driver point and also become the youngest driver to set the fastest time on a WRC stage. Wilson finished in eighth place in the overall standings, just pipping team-mate Luis Perez Companc to the position in the final stage of the event. The Italian round of the WRC presents a similiarly natured gravel challenge to Argentina and the Stobart WRC team is boosted by 33% for this event as Wilson and co-driver Michael Orr are joined not only by Companc, but also by the Finnish crew of Kosti Katajamaki and Timo Alanne. Katajamaki drove with the team in February in Uddeholm Rally Sweden, finishing sixth in the overall standings so a dream result for the squad would be three Stobart Ford Focus RS WRCs in the top ten

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "I've never been to Sardinia before. I was meant to be there last year but I ended up watching the result from my hospital bed as it was a week after my big accident in Rally of Wales. I've never seen the stages before in person, only on tele but we should get a good idea on the recce."

Luis Perez Companc/Jose-Maria Volta: "I am looking forward to Sardinia as I am more confident with the car, every time I drive it I am learning more. Gravel is my favourite surface so it should be good for me."

Kosti Katajamaki/Timo Alanne: "It seems like a long time since the Swedish Rally. It will be my third time in Rally Sardinia but the stages this year are totally different. I've been busy doing work for my sponsors and some driving in a Group N car which is very different from the Focus. I'm very happy to be driving in Sardinia and I'll be driving as fast as possible."

Manufacturer 2: Red Bull Skoda Team / Skoda Fabia WRC05
11 Harri Rovanperä / Risto Pietiläinen (FIN)
12 Andreas Aigner / Timo Timo Gottschalk (A/D)

After quite a long absence – the Argentinian round was not entered – the season of Red Bull Skoda, run by BRR, continues next week with its fifth WRC event in Sardinia. For both drivers it will be the first gravel rally of the year. Accordingly, the team’s preparations are intense. Starting this Saturday, vigorous on-site test runs are scheduled up to and including Monday to work out the best suspension settings.

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietiläinen: Harri Rovanpera is rated as one of the best gravel specialists in the entire field and has already won Rally Sardinia back in 2003 when it was still an European Championship event: “I love this rally, it’s extremely difficult and very demanding. If we’re able to test successfully, we should be able to achieve a good result in the end. In my 108th WRC start, my routine and experience will surely be of help here.”

Andreas Aigner/Timo Gottschalk: For Andreas Aigner, his first ever gravel rally at the wheel of a WRC implies another huge challenge: “I had quite a good feeling in the last tarmac rallies, now I need to adjust and learn to drive properly on gravel. The test days will help me with that for sure. Apart from that I’m totally motivated, and I hope to at least keep the immediate competition at bay. In addition Harri will be able to give me some good advice.”

Event Timetable

Thursday 18 May: Ceremonial start

Start Marina Vecchia, Porto Cervo 20.00

Friday 19 May: Leg 1 Olbia - Olbia

Start Olbia 08.00
SS1 Terranova 24.10km 08.46
SS2 Onani 18.47km 09.58
SS3 Siniscola 22.25km 11.10
Serv A Olbia (30 mins) 13.20
SS4 Terranova 24.10km 14.36
SS5 Onani 18.47km 15.48
SS6 Siniscola 22.25km 17.00
Serv B Olbia (45 mins) 18.50
Finish Olbia 19.35

Saturday 20 May: Leg 2 Olbia - Olbia

Serv C Olbia (10 mins) 08.00
SS7 Loelle 25.20km 09.30
SS8 Monte Lerno 31.20km 10.28
SS9 Su Filigosu 12.28km 11.13
Serv D Olbia (30 mins) 12.50
SS10 Loelle 25.20km 14.40
SS11 Monte Lerno 31.20km 15.38
SS12 Su Filigosu 12.28km 16.23
Serv E Olbia (45 mins) 17.40
Finish Olbia 18.25

Sunday 21 May: Leg 3 Olbia - Porto Cervo

Serv F Olbia (10 mins) 07.00
SS13 San Giacomo 13.46km 07.49
SS14 La Prugnola 9.59km 08.40
SS15 Campovaglio 15.92km 09.17
SS16 La Prugnola 9.59km 10.48
SS17 Campovaglio 15.92km 11.25
SS18 San Giacomo 13.46km 12.32
Serv G Olbia (20 mins) 13.14
Finish Porto Cervo 14.15

Leading positions after the first day of the rally:

1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 1hr 33min 39.9sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 1hr 34min 15.3sec
3. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 1hr 34min 44.1sec
4. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Peugeot 307 1hr 35min 24.4sec
5. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 1hr 35min 44.2sec
6. G Galli/G Bernacchini I Peugeot 307 1hr 35min 46.7sec
7. C Atkinson/G MacNeall AUS Subaru Impreza 1hr 35min 54.0sec
8. X Pons/C Del Barrio E Citroen Xsara 1hr 36min 09.5sec
9. J Välimäki/J Kalliolepo FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 36min 34.1sec
10 K Sohlberg/T Tuominen FIN Subaru Impreza 1hr 36min 56.0sec

Leg 1 News

Ford’s Marcus Grönholm takes the overnight lead in Rally d’Italia Sardegna, the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Finn set a blistering pace in the Focus during the morning’s three stages, winning each to pull out a 40 second advantage over fellow countryman and team-mate Mikko Hirvonen. However, during the same stages this afternoon, reigning FIA World Rally Champion and series leader Sébastien Loeb mounted a serious challenge. The Citroën Xsara driver took victory in all but one of the stages, climbing from third to second by the end of the opening leg. Grönholm nevertheless maintains a healthy 35.4 second advantage over the Frenchman, but must sustain the pace and avoid problems over the island’s rough gravel roads if he is to put an end to Loeb’s run of victories and maintain his own hopes of clinching this year’s world title. Hirvonen now holds third position, the Finn nearly 30 seconds adrift of Loeb but with a useful 40 second advantage over fourth-placed Peugeot 307 WRC driver Henning Solberg. Reigning FIA Junior World Rally Champion Daniel Sordo, now competing in a Citroën Xsara World Rally Car, has climbed into fifth with local hero Gigi Galli just seconds adrift in sixth. Bad luck continues to follow Petter Solberg however. The Subaru Impreza driver ran as high as fourth before being forced to withdraw from the leg after a string of punctures in this afternoon’s three stages. He will restart tomorrow under SupeRally rules. Harri Rovanperä (Skoda) retired after the penultimate stage with a broken driveshaft while Jan Kopecky (Skoda) went out on the opening test with a crankshaft sensor problem.

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The first leg of Rally d’Italia Sardegna, race organized by the Automobile Club Italy and valid as 7th round of the World Rally Championship, confirmed the prediction of the eve, that the duel was going to between Sabastien Loeb, the actual World Rally Champion at the wheel of a Citroen Xsara Wrc of the Team Kronos Total and the Finnish driver Marcus Gronholm with a Focus of the BP Ford World Rally Team. The French driver of Citroen was the favourite, he won the last four races in a row of the WRC, but this evening at the end of the first leg the leader was the Finnish driver of Ford, that took in the first stage and kept it for the whole race. Gronholm finished the leg with 35”4 over his rival, winning 4 of the 6 stages of today. “ We have to push hard tomorrow too – said Gronholm – We have to start well. Today it’s been tough but the car went very well”. Loeb won the other two stages of the day. The Alsatian driver had quite a few problems on the three stages of the first round of today. The set up of his car was not the right one for this kind of ground and he lost 40”. Behind these two Mikko Hirvonen disputed a good race, wary but also fast, on a route difficult for all drivers. Among the “big drivers” Petter Solberg on his Subaru Impreza, was the one who paid more, he retired at the end of the last stage of the day. The Norwegian driver will restart tomorrow thanks to the Super rally rule. Behind there were Henning Solberg, fourth with his Peugeot 307 Wrc, Daniel Sordo, Citroen Xsara Wrc and Gigi Galli, Peugeot 307 Wrc. The Italian driver, had a very bad start, he was 13th at the end of stage one, pushed hard afterwards climbing up the overall classification. “It is a very tough race” said at the end of the last stage “The start was not good, we chose not the appropriate tyres. In the second part of the rally was better, I attack and we got good results”. The last one to enter the score zone was the other Spanish driver Xavier Pons. Among the cars taking part in the fifth round of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship the best one so far has been Guy Wilks with a Suzuki Super 1600, in the back Patrick Sandell on Renault Clio Super 1600. Quite unluck Luca Betti who stopped with his Renault Clio in the last stage. The driver from Piedmont will restart tomorrow too. In the Ford fiesta Trophy the protagonist of today was Alessandro Bettega, son of the unforgettable Attilio. In the Subaru Cup the protagonist was Anton Alen, the son of the famous rally Champion Markku Alen. 

Team News:

Manufacturer 1: Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team / Citroën Xsara WRC
1 Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena (F/MC)
2 Xavier Pons / Carlos del Barrio (E)

At the end of a very difficult first leg, run in intensely hot conditions, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena occupy second place in the provisional classification, 35.4 seconds behind Marcus Grönholm. Dani Sordo and Marc Marti are fifth while Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio are eighth. All three Citroen Xsara crews from the Kronos Racing Team are therefore in strong points-scoring positions for both championships.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "On the first stage, Terranova, I wasn't in a particularly good rhythm. Marcus [Grönholm] set off at a very fast pace, and because of the threeminute gap between the cars [owing to the amount of dust on the stages] I didn't get his first split time until a third of the way through the stage. I tried to react, but I had already given too much time away. On the remaining two stages of that loop, I drove very quickly in order to try and reverse the trend. I was very curious to know what it would be like on the second run through the stages, on abrasive roads that had already been swept clean of loose gravel. We won two out of the three stages and got back five seconds. Tomorrow, when road conditions are equal for everybody, there are a few more things that we can try. I'm going to do everything I can to have a go at reducing the gap. It should be a really good battle, just as myself and Marcus both like it. »

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: "All in all, it's been a good day. Tomorrow I think I'll up my pace a bit, as I reckon we can do something good here. »

Manufacturer 1: BP- Ford World Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC06
3 Marcus Grönholm / Timo Rautiainen (FIN)
4 Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN)

BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen lead the Rally d'Italia Sardegna after dominating today's opening leg on the rocky roads of the Mediterranean island. The Finns built a large advantage after winning all three of this morning's speed tests in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car and controlled their lead during this afternoon's repeat tests to end the day 35.4sec in front. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen lie third in a similar Focus RS after a strong performance. They were a model of consistency, setting five top three times from the six special stages to return to the rally base of Olbia, on Sardinia's east coast, with a comfortable grip on the final podium place.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "I was surprised to have such a large lead this morning but the car felt great and I was relaxed in the stages. We worked hard during our tests here to make improvements to the suspension, differentials and engine and it paid off. I was more confident. I still have a big fight on my hands with Loeb and I think there will be two more days like that. I don't have a big enough lead yet to be comfortable because there are too many corners remaining but it's a good feeling tonight."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "It has been rough and rutted but I like these stages and I've not taken stupid risks. There were many loose stones this morning and the car's sump guard took a few big hits so I knew I had to be careful. "The top three is where I want to be and this is the kind of day I have wanted all year. The Focus felt great and the tyres worked really well on the rocks and ruts. Tomorrow I will stick at a sensible pace and try to hold position because anything can happen in these conditions."

Manufacturer 1: Subaru World Rally Team / Subaru Impreza WRC 2006
5 Petter Solberg / Philip Mills (N/GB)
6 Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall (AUS)

Chris Atkinson leads the Subaru World Rally Team challenge after the first Leg of Rally d'Italia Sardegna. The Australian drove consistently throughout the day to end Leg one in seventh place overall. Petter Solberg started well and maintained a top six position until three punctures in quick succession forced his retirement eight kilometres from the end of the final stage. He will restart tomorrow with the objective of testing for the forthcoming Acropolis Rally.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "It's been a frustrating afternoon and as you'd expect I'm disappointed about not finishing the Leg. As a team we've got a lot of work to do. For the rest of this rally we'll concentrate on testing and trying different set-ups. We need to find some improvement before Greece. That's the plan now."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "It's been a tough day. In terms of driving we've run at the same pace all day. Sometimes the stage times were really good, while other times they've not been so great but we did the best we could."

Manufacturer 2: OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team / Peugeot 307 WRC
7 Manfred Stohl / Ilka Minor (A)
8 Henning Solberg / Cato Menkerud (N)

The beginning of the "Rally Italia Sardegna" was everything the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team and Henning Solberg could have hoped for. The Norwegian had a spectacular infight with his brother Petter (World Champion 2003), finally overtaking him on special stage five. The OMV driver lies in outstanding fourth overall place after day one. Manfred Stohl on the other hand had to deal with slight teething troubles. The 33-year-old Austrian lost a lot of time on the first three SS. In the afternoon he was able to climb up two places but was thrown back once again to twelfth place due to tyre damage.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "The feeling was quite all right in the morning. Unfortunately the times were not. In the afternoon we did better - until the mishap with the tyre occured on the last special stage. If the mousse doesn't work you simply lose too much time. But this rally is so tough on the material that almost every team encounters a flat at one time or another. Even the best of tyres can't prevent that."

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "The Peugeot runs perfectly smooth. We are really feeling great. In the morning we had a moment of shock when we drifted off the road on SS 2. But apart from that we can drive at very high speed and it is generally a lot of fun. On Saturday we'll try our best to jump onto the podium."

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Kosti Katajamäki / Timo Alanne (FIN)

From the highs of setting the fastest stage time in the last stage he drove in Rally Argentina, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Matthew Wilson experienced the opposite end of the rally spectrum as he crawled through the first day of Rally d'Italia Sardegna due to suspension damage in the morning and then engine management difficulties in the afternoon. Kosti Katajamaki in the second Stobart Focus registered to score manufacturer points had a far better afternoon to Wilson and experienced a clean run through the treacherous sandy gravel stages to end up 13th in the overall standings. After a solid run in the first stage of the day the Finn had suffered failure of his fly-by-wire throttle motor and he had to alternate between using the car's throttle emergency mode with its all-or-nothing power delivery and its road mode with significantly diminished power.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "I don't know what happened on the first stage. We were less than a kilometre in and we went round a left hander and heard a bang, there must have been a rock in the road. It didn't sound like too big an impact but we thought we'd got a puncture from it. The mousse worked but the hub was damaged. We then didn't know if we'd make it to the service and the hardest part was the 70km road section. We've stopped on every stage today. In the afternoon's first stage we changed the ECU, then in the next one we had problems with the fly-by-wire linkage and we changed that to the cable mode. We made a repair to the linkage and we had a good run for 8km, and set a good split time, but then the fly-by-wire motor failed. I've never been last in a rally before, especially not by seven minutes!"

Luis Perez Companc/Jose-Maria Volta: "It's very tough out there, but it's the same for everyone. It's very slippery as well - too slippery for me, it's very dusty and very rough. As soon as you get on the gas the car pushes wide with understeer. It's been very dusty and we've had some problems but everything is okay, I'm very happy as it's a tough rally. Tomorrow will probably be worse, but that's rallying, you have to do it. I had no mechanical problems luckily and I finished the day."

Kosti Katajamaki/Timo Alanne: "It wasn't so easy on the first stage as it was very slippery and very difficult but I set a good time, it is four months since I've been in the car so it's quite exciting at the moment. I didn't push so hard on the first stage, the plan was to push harder on the next ones but the fly by wire throttle broke so we had to use the emergency mode and road mode with no turbo, that was very hard. In the afternoon the ruts were really bad, but it was easier with the throttle working."

Manufacturer 2: Red Bull Skoda Team / Skoda Fabia WRC05
11 Harri Rovanperä / Risto Pietiläinen (FIN)
12 Andreas Aigner / Timo Timo Gottschalk (A/D)

The drivers for Red Bull Skoda suffered from a lot of bad luck today at the start of the seventh WRC event in Sardinia. Both Andreas Aigner and Harri Rovanpera had their share of problems and consequently lost plenty of time.

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietiläinen: "In the morning I caught up with Matthew Wilson on both SS 1 and SS 3, I lost some time this way. Why I couldn't go faster otherwise I'm not really sure myself, even though we changed the Fabia WRC's complete setup at service. On the penultimate stage I suffered from transmission troubles on top of that, the team management decided to stop ahead of time in order to prevent more serious damage, so I can restart tomorrow thanks to SupeRally regulations."

Andreas Aigner/Timo Gottschalk: "Just 2.5 kilometres into the stage I had my first tyre failure, a short while later I noticed another puncture, I just managed to get to the stage finish with it. Since there were three stages in a row and we only had one spare on board, I had to complete the 22 kilometres of SS 3 with a blown tyre. That's where I lost most of my time. In the afternoon everything was back to normal, I felt confident at the wheel and was quite happy with the times I posted, after all it's my first time on pure gravel."

Leading positions after the second day of the rally:

1. Loeb – Elena (Citroen Xsara Wrc) 3h02’26”0; 
2. Hirvonen – Lehtinen (Ford Focus Wrc) diff 2’17”; 
3. Sordo – Marti (Citroen Xsara Wrc) diff 2’56”0; 
4. Pons – Del Barrio ( Citroen Xsara Wrc) diff 4’27”1; 
5. Atkinson – MacNeall (Subaru Impreza Wrc) diff 5’56”7; 
6. Valimaki- Kalliolepo (Mitsubishi Lancer Wrc) diff 6’01”6; 
7. Sohlberg - Tuominen ( Subaru Impreza Wrc) diff 6’29”1; 
8. Solberg –Mills (Subaru Impreza Wrc)

Leg 2 News

A rock and broken sump ended Marcus Grönholm’s chances of victory during today’s second leg of Rally d’Italia Sardegna. The Finn, who started the day with a 35 second advantage, won the opening stage to consolidate his lead, but then hit a rock, damaged the sump and lost all the oil in the Ford Focus, forcing him into retirement and handing the lead to Sébastien Loeb. Loeb, now the runaway leader of the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, hit the same rock as Grönholm, but luck was on the Frenchman’s side and he powered through the rest of the leg, claiming victory in four of the day’s six stages. He now has more than two minutes in hand to second-placed Ford driver Mikko Hirvonen, with just six stages remaining on Sunday. Daniel Sordo, in a private Citroën Xsara WRC, has climbed from fifth to third overnight, but has battled hard with local hero Gigi Galli throughout the leg. The pair traded positions four times in six stages, but Sordo takes the overnight advantage and Galli was forced to retire on the road section back to service in Olbia this evening. Henning Solberg, who was fourth overnight, hit a tree and holed the radiator, while Chris Atkinson, in the leading Subaru, was lucky to continue after landing heavily and damaging the radiator and steering.

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An unfinished series of Coup de theatre at Rally d’Italia sardegna, race organized by the Automobile Club Italy, seventh round of the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship. The duel started yesterday between Marcus Gronholm, Ford, and Sebastien Loeb, Citroen, finished today on the second special stage of the second leg with the retirement of the Ford’s Finnish driver. While braking the Focus of the Fins hit a rock with the front of the car and broke the sump and lost all the oil. A bad luck that gave Loeb the possibility to take the lead, with quite a big advantage over the other drivers. During tomorrow’s difficult final leg he can calmly manage his advantage. At the end of Leg 2 Loeb is in the lead with over two minutes over Mikko hirvonen, Ford Focus Wrc, the latter one drove quite fast today too. Thee 26 years old Finnish driver has to watch his back from the Spanish driver Daniel Sordo on a Citroen Xsara Wrc, that passed in the last special stage of the day Gigi Galli at the wheel of a Peugeot 307 Wrc, even though only by 1”3.
The two drivers were fighting all day and got very close to Hirvonen. The coup de theatre for the Italian driver Gigi Galli, arrived few meters after the finish of the last stage of the day. His 307 had a problem with the radiator that impede him to reach the last TC, that’s to say the finish line of today’s leg. If during the night the car would be fixed the Italian driver will be able to restart tomorrow thanks to the Super Rally rule, but he will give up the fight for the upper places of the classification, because he will start with a 5 minutes penalty. The fight for the second and third place will be the main issue of tomorrow’s leg, while for the lead everything seems almost done. Behind the leaders a big gap. Xavier Pons third driver of the Citroen Kronos team is 4’30” behind them. The Spanish is in front of Atkinson on Subaru and Jussi Valimaki with Mitsubishi Lancer. Another Subaru of the Finnish driver Solberg is 8th overall, the last place giving points for the World Rally Championship. Among the drivers racing for the fifth round of the JWRC the leader is Guy Wilks on a Suzuki Swift Super 1600, followed by Patrick Sandell on Renault Clio Super 1600, like yesterday. Third is now Conrad Rautenbach with another Renault Clio. Goes on the good race of Alessandro Bettega among the cars of the Ford Fiesta Trophy, while among the cars of the Subaru Cup Alan Scorcioni is leading afterb a long fight with Anton Alen,. The Finnish has been obliged to retire because he went off the road and hit a tree in the last stage.

Team News:

Manufacturer 1: Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team / Citroën Xsara WRC
1 Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena (F/MC)
2 Xavier Pons / Carlos del Barrio (E)

 

Manufacturer 1: BP- Ford World Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC06
3 Marcus Grönholm / Timo Rautiainen (FIN)
4 Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN)

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: " Finally everything has come together for me this weekend and it feels fantastic to finish second on a WRC event with a factory team for the first time. I just have one more step to reach the top level of the podium. It was a long and difficult weekend and I was nervous all day in case anything went wrong. I had just one problem yesterday but that was my mistake when I touched a bank. The roads were rougher then they looked on the recce but they were enjoyable to drive. Sardinia is a good island for me and it seems to have a good history for Finns. More than anything this weekend I have learned how to drive in these conditions without taking any risks and yet still achieve a good result. Previously when I have been chasing a podium I have had to push all the way, but here I was able to drive at a speed with which I was comfortable." 

Manufacturer 1: Subaru World Rally Team / Subaru Impreza WRC 2006
5 Petter Solberg / Philip Mills (N/GB)
6 Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall (AUS)

 

Manufacturer 2: OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team / Peugeot 307 WRC
7 Manfred Stohl / Ilka Minor (A)
8 Henning Solberg / Cato Menkerud (N)

 

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Kosti Katajamäki / Timo Alanne (FIN)

 

Manufacturer 2: Red Bull Skoda Team / Skoda Fabia WRC05
11 Harri Rovanperä / Risto Pietiläinen (FIN)
12 Andreas Aigner / Timo Timo Gottschalk (A/D)

 

Kristian Sohlberg/Tomi Tuominen: " The feeling is great! After a couple of incidents and problems it's great to finish in 6th place and get my first WRC points. I want to thank Red Devil Atolye Kazaz team for they kept the car running in perfect shape all through the event. Also I want to thank Pirelli who gave me good tyres which helped me accomplish this result. I will be back for my home event, Neste Oil Rally Finland and hopefully we can have some test before the event like we did last year maybe entering Pirelli Tampere Rally, which we won in 2005. In Finland the goal is to get a result like we had in Italy or even better."

Final positions after the third day of the rally:

1. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 3hr 54min 18.9sec
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 57min 00.3sec
3. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 3hr 57min 46.6sec
4. X Pons/C Del Barrio E Citroen Xsara 3hr 59min 47.2sec
5. J Välimäki/J Kalliolepo FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 4hr 01min 27.7sec
6. K Sohlberg/T Tuominen FIN Subaru Impreza 4hr 01min 55.8sec
7. M Stohl/I Minor A Peugeot 307 4hr 02min 37.3sec
8. F Duval/ P Pivato B Skoda Fabia 4hr 04min 04.7sec
9. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 4hr 04min 38.8sec
10 C Atkinson/G MacNeall AUS Subaru Impreza 4hr 05min 22.8sec

Driver's comments after Leg 3

Leg 3 News

Sébastien Loeb claimed outright victory in Rally d’Italia Sardegna today and in doing so took his fifth consecutive win of the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship. The French Citroën Xsara driver cruised through the closing leg, returning to Porto Cervo with a runaway winning margin of two minutes and 41.4 seconds. Monegasque co-driver Daniel Elena also goes into the record books as the most successful navigator in the history of the series, with 25 world rally victories to his name, all alongside Loeb. In the Championship standings, Loeb moves further ahead as nearest rival Marcus Grönholm was forced into retirement during the second leg. The Frenchman is now 31 points ahead and his Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team further extended its lead in the Manufacturers’ Championship as Loeb’s team-mate, Xavier Pons, notched up points for fourth overall. After Grönholm’s retirement, team-mate Mikko Hirvonen was left to uphold Ford honours. Despite being too far adrift to mount an assault for victory, he claimed second overall and the best result of his career. Daniel Sordo, driving a privately-entered Citroën Xsara, finished on the podium for the third time this season, but for the first time on a gravel rally, and the Spaniard retains third overall in the Drivers’ Championship. Subaru’s Chris Atkinson, fifth going into the last stage, crashed, leaving Finns Jussi Valimaki and Kristian Sohlberg to take fifth and sixth respectively.

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Another win, the fifth in the 2006 World Rally Championship, for Sebastien Loeb , Daniel Elena and their unreachable Citroen Xsara Wrc of the Kronos Total Team. The Italian round confirmed that, also this year, Loeb will be the one to defeat. His victory in Sardinia was anyway more difficult than the others gained in the first part of the season. In fact, Marcus Gronholm held on with his Focus of BP Ford World Rally Team, but he had to leave at the beginning of leg 2 when he hit a rock loosing the engine oil. The finnish driver retired, the race for the place was over, as Loeb began to gain time on all the others. With this last win, the fifth on seven races already disputed, Loeb is alone at the head of the world championship with 31 points advantage over the second one. Once Gronholm got out , another Finns manage to gain a good place: Mikko Hirvonen, from Ford too, is second , and reached his best result in a world championship. Hirvonen, after taking the second place, didn’t have problems to guard it till the end of the race. The only to press him was Daniel Sordo, driver of another Citroen Xsara Wrc. The twenty-three years old guy confirmed once more to be the real revelation of this year, gaining the third position just five points far from Gronholm. Another spanish , Xavier Pons, with the second Citoren Xsara Wrc from Kronos Total team, gained the fourth position. Behind the first four took place Jussi Valimaki, with his Mitsubishi Lancer Wrc, Kristian Sohlberg, Subaru, Manfrodo Stohl, Peugeot 307 Wrc, and the Belgian Duval, the last in the score zone with his Skoda Fabia Wrc. Not so lucky Gigi Galli, who couldn’t run on the last leg. The engine’s problems he had yesterday reappeared just near the finish line, making him stop. A pity for the pilot of Peugeot, who was fourth when he had to leave following the third one with just one second of delay. Today’s races were very important for the final classification of Junior World Championship’s fifth leg . On today’s opening Guy Wilks retired after winning the first two legs. The winner was Patrick Sandell, Reanault Clio Super 1600, who arrived before Rautenbach’s Clio and the two Aava’s and Anderson’s Suzuki Swift. Alessandro Bettega won the Ford Fiesta Trophy with his Trt supported car. Winner of Subaru Cup, Alan Scorcioni, before Bruno Bentivogli. Unlucky Simone Campedelli, Mitsubishi, who was for a long time in the first places in N group, and had to retire for technical problems just before the finish line. The Finnish Juho Hanninen won between the Production Cars.

Team News:

Manufacturer 1: Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team / Citroën Xsara WRC
1 Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena (F/MC)
2 Xavier Pons / Carlos del Barrio (E)

Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Citroen Xsara WRC took their fifth win of the season in Porto Cervo today. This latest victory - also their fifth in a row - marked the 25th success in 77 World Championship events for Kronos Racing's famous franco-monegasque pairing.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: «Victory always tastes sweet, but this one is special. For Daniel, it's a historic moment. Knowing just how much I want to beat Carlos Sainz's record myself, I can easily imagine exactly how Daniel is feeling now, after becoming the first co-driver to chalk up 25 wins. »

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: "Sardinia is a very difficult rally. I feel less at ease here than I did in Argentina, maybe because of the narrow stages. This means that I still need to improve in this type of conditions. Securing the manufacturer points for third place was my priority since yesterday afternoon, so I was very careful throughout the second half of the rally. These points are the best way for me to repay the team for their limitless support from the start of the season. »

Manufacturer 1: BP- Ford World Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC06
3 Marcus Grönholm / Timo Rautiainen (FIN)
4 Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN)

BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen scored the best result of their careers by finishing second on the Rally d'Italia Sardegna today. The Finns took no risks in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car during the final leg of this seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship to better their third place in Spain last year.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "Finally everything has come together for me this weekend and it feels fantastic to finish second on a WRC event with a factory team for the first time. I just have one more step to reach the top level of the podium. It was a long and difficult weekend and I was nervous all day in case anything went wrong. I had just one problem yesterday but that was my mistake when I touched a bank. The roads were rougher then they looked on the recce but they were enjoyable to drive. Sardinia is a good island for me and it seems to have a good history for Finns. More than anything this weekend I have learned how to drive in these conditions without taking any risks and yet still achieve a good result. Previously when I have been chasing a podium I have had to push all the way, but here I was able to drive at a speed with which I was comfortable."

Manufacturer 1: Subaru World Rally Team / Subaru Impreza WRC 2006
5 Petter Solberg / Philip Mills (N/GB)
6 Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall (AUS)

Both Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson demonstrated the stage-winning pace of the Subaru Impreza WRC2006 on the final Leg of Rally d'Italia Sardegna. Petter secured two stage wins while Chris set his first fastest time of the year, however problems in the final stage of the rally cost both drivers places. A bent steering arm dropped Petter to ninth while accident damage relegated Chris from fifth to tenth.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "It's been a hard event for me. I tried as hard as I could all weekend but the overall result is disappointing. There's not really a lot more to say. We're looking forward to the next event now. I like the Acropolis Rally a lot and I'll give it my best shot."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "Overall I'm happy with how I've driven on this rally. Before the last stage we had gone consistently all weekend, made no mistakes and had kept a good pace. Obviously to end the rally like we did is very disappointing, but there was a lot of dust coming into the car and I got distracted. We will be targeting a better finish next month in Greece."

Manufacturer 2: OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team / Peugeot 307 WRC
7 Manfred Stohl / Ilka Minor (A)
8 Henning Solberg / Cato Menkerud (N)

The battle of the "Rally Italia Sardegna" is over - but the result is not entirely to the liking of the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team. Since Henning Stolberg forwent a SupeRally-start on Sunday, Manfred Stohl inherited two places on the final day and finished the seventh WRC-run this season in somwhat lucky seventh overall place. Two driver-WRC-points and five points in the manufacture-World Championship are at least some consolation. 

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "That I scored two points in the end has nothing to do with my performance, it was sheer luck. But right now I'm looking forward to Greece, even though there is a lot of work ahead for us. If we scrutinously analyse everything I'm sure that we will fare much better there."

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "Of course it hurts when you're in third place and have to retire. But we made the right decision in accordance with Bozian Racing. It is more important to perfectly prepare the Peugeot 307 WRC for Greece. There we hopefully will have more luck and get a top result across the finishing line "

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Kosti Katajamäki / Timo Alanne (FIN)

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Matthew Wilson finished Rally d'Italia Sardegna in a lowly 34th position after an event the 19 year-old Cumbrian could truly describe as 'character building' after his fastest stage time and point score in Rally Argentina - where Wilson became the youngest-ever driver to achieve those feats. Kosti Katajamaki in the second manufacturer points registered Stobart Focus looked promising for a top ten finish after ending the first leg in tenth in the overall standings. This result was achieved despite the challenge of throttle problems in Friday's morning stages. Katajamaki's rally came to an end on Saturday morning when the Finn didn't hear a pace note and rolled his car twice, hitting a tree in the process. Although Katajamaki and co-driver Timo Alanne were unhurt their car is no suitable for use by the pairing in their next event.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "It's been a mixed rally. Sunday went quite well as it was the first clean run we had and the stages were good; fast and not too rough apart from the last one which was rough so we eased off. The car's in reasonably good condition and we wanted to keep it that way for Greece. We got to the end of the rally and that was the main objective. Pretty much every stage today we've been at a good pace and I think without the one minute penalty, and if we scrapped Friday, we'd have been in the top ten. It's a shame we had the first day that we did, but there's always Greece to look forward to."

Luis Perez Companc/Jose-Maria Volta: "It was a very tough rally. I didn't think it was going to be so tough. When we did the pace notes with the recce car it seemed like nice roads with some parts fast and some parts twisty, but nice roads. But then in the rally car it was all change. The first day was very tough for me, the second day on the second leg was very good and I felt very comfortable with the car and the times were good. On the third day I just kept the car in one piece. It was a good rally for me."

Kosti Katajamaki/Timo Alanne: "I hit a rock in the Saturday morning but everything was okay although the engine stopped and took eight seconds to restart. It was more slippery than I expected, I went a little bit too wide and hit the rock in the morning. I was hoping it would be a little bit cleaner the second time through, but I didn't hear a pace note and that was my rally over."

Manufacturer 2: Red Bull Skoda Team / Skoda Fabia WRC05
11 Harri Rovanperä / Risto Pietiläinen (FIN)
12 Andreas Aigner / Timo Timo Gottschalk (A/D)

In a nutshell, the seventh WRC event of the season did not quite go according to plan for the entire Red Bull Skoda team. Despite rather positive results in testing and the Sardinia shakedown, there were small problems right from the start.

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietiläinen: "On today's SS 14 we suffered from severe transmission problems. I contacted the team management but there was no point in running the remaining four stages as there was no service left today. Subsequently I brought the car back to the Porto Cervo parc fermé in accordance with rally headquarters. My summary of Rally Sardinia is naturally very sobering. Aside from petty little matters which will always cost you time over the course of a rally I simply didn't find any decent rhythm. We also lacked the correct balance, even though the team constantly modified the setup. What a shame, I was totally motivated for a better result. I just hope that Rally Acropolis will be better."

Andreas Aigner/Timo Gottschalk: "I'm glad that I didn't go down the order any further because of that and still managed to get important manufacturers' points. Apart from that I'm rather satisfied with my performance in Sardinia. My WRC gravel debut surely wasn't an easy task, but I'm already looking forward to Greece."


FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
RALLY D'ITALIA SARDEGNA
Media FIA Post-event Press Conference
21.05.2006

Present:
Sebastien Loeb - Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team
Daniel Elena - Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team
Mikko Hirvonen - BP Ford World Rally Team
Jarmo Lehtinen - BP Ford World Rally Team
Daniel Sordo
Marc Marti
Representative of the winning Manufacturer Kronos Total Citroën WRT - Marc Van Dalen

Welcome to the post-event FIA Press Conference of Rally d’Italia Sardegna.

Q:
Congratulations Daniel on becoming the most successful co-driver in the world with 25 victories; how does it feel? Will Luis Moya be buying dinner tonight?
DE:
I’m very very happy with this result; I’m just looking forward to Greece now too. I dedicate the victory to my family and my daughter. I don’t know, maybe we’ll party tonight, but I’ll party for sure tomorrow when I’ll come back home…I think we’ll make a one-week party!

Q:
Congratulations Seb on the victory that takes you just one win away from equalling Carlos Sainz’s record of 26 wins. You took the lead after Marcus Gronholm retired on SS8 yesterday; could you have beaten him on pace? How worried are you about the pace of the Ford over the rest of the season? You hit the same rock as Marcus yesterday – why do you think you got away with it?
SL:
The race was very difficult and tough, Marcus was really fast. I tried to push on the first day but it was very hard. The second day was better, but still difficult. I’m always worried about my competitors, they’re good, and sometimes very fast, and I know Greece will not be easy. The rock we hit was not such a big problem, we just have need for some harder tyres, but today the team worked hard to improve the car and it was better, we were stronger.

Q:
Mikko, congratulations on your best result to date with second place. You hit a rock as well yesterday; how close did you come to retiring from this rally? After Marcus retired, were you under a lot of pressure to finish?
MH:
The rock was big enough to be a problem, but it fortunately didn’t compromise the result; we just lost some time .The last two days were more difficult, I tried to run and follow the first, but it was difficult.

Q:
Congratulations Jarmo. You had a big gap to Sebastien Loeb in front of you for the second half of the rally, how did you judge your pace? Did it make you nervous that you had little to gain and everything to lose?
JL:
Quite happy, Seb is very fast, but when something goes wrong I always try to calm down and go on. And I wasn’t so good in doing it when we hit the rock! I went crazy; it was very difficult to stay calm. When you’re running you just think you have to reach the end of the race, never thought about what was to earn and what to loose.

Q:
Congratulations on your first podium on gravel Dani; do you feel that you are improving now on this surface? What are the biggest things you have learnt? What was the battle with Gigi Galli like on the second day?
DS:
Yes, we’re improving, I wasn’t this good on gravel in Argentina, even if there the road was more slippery, and here we made many improvements on the car. With Galli it was a good duel, I enjoyed it a lot, then, luckily, he went out!

Q:
Marc, congratulations on your third place. Dani said that he struggled to feel comfortable in Argentina; what made the difference here?
MM:
Argentina is faster than here and you must be very careful,here we improved the car a lot and, as we learned lessons, our race was easier. Here we had a new guy in the team, and he was very good, now we can say we’re on a run…we’ll see.

Q:
Another great result for Kronos, which now puts you in the clear lead of the Championship ahead of Ford.
MvD:
The entire group made a fantastic job, even in difficult conditions. I expect the team to do their best always, I know they will, and with Dani we’ll work to solve problems and grow together.

Q:
This gives you a very big gap in the Championship now of 31 points. Can you start to relax a bit? It will be very difficult for Marcus to catch you now. It’s also your fifth victory in a row. What do you think about your chances of another win in Greece? Will that give you a special motivation as we head for the Acropolis?
SL:
We had a very good result, I’m happy but cannot relax. I will never, I’ll always run trying to win. I had 6 wins in a row last year, so why not again? Now I’m at 25 wins, I’ll try to improve, we’ll see in Greece.

Q:
Daniel, what do you think about your chances of winning the Acropolis? It’s an event you won last year, but this year all the stages are new. Are you looking forward to it? What do you think will happen?
DE:
I don’t know, they say we have a chance to win, but it’s not easy at all. We’ll push as much as we can, but it’ll be not easy, and we don’t know the stages…we’ll see.

Q:
You were driving with a new specification engine here in Sardinia, what did you think of it Mikko? Are there any new developments planned for the car in Greece? Now that you have finished in second place, do you think you will be able to challenge for victory soon? Maybe even in Greece?
MH:
The engine made a difference and the car was improved from Argentina, but still we have to get better. There are many thing we can improve; we have to discuss and decide, but I don’t think we’ll do them for Greece. For the rest, we’ll see; the others are good, one never knows what can happen!

Q:
Mikko has led this rally before, last year when you were in the private Ford Focus. Do you think this is an event that particularly suits him? Half the stages were new compared to last year, what did you think of this year’s event generally?
JL:
Yes, maybe it suits us, but I don’t know why. The new stages are difficult, to face them properly we’ll have to do lots of improvements.

Q:
We saw lots of big problems with tyre wear and abrasive surfaces on this rally. How did you manage to look after your tyres? Do you think that this rally will prepare you well for Greece?
DS:
It’s normal, everybody has problems now and then, that was not a great problem for us. It was ok, and yes, one can always use problems to get better. In Greece we’ll see, but it’s ok.

Q:
This is still only Dani’s seventh rally in a World Rally Car – has he exceeded your expectations? How much is there still to learn?
MM:
It was a surprise for everybody, nobody expected a result like this! He’s very young, and this was a very important result. From this experience we took lots of ideas for improvements we have to do on the car and now we know what to change and how.

Q:
What are your expectations for Greece, Marc; it looks likely to be a very rough and tricky event. Do you expect Seb to be driving flat-out for victory, or will you be asking him to take no risks from now on?
MvD:
I’m very happy with the three crews, also because the drivers know how difficult every rally is, and for this reason it is very easy for me to talk to them. I know even Seb is young, but he knows what to do. We’ll see the strategy, we have strong cars and we’ll try to do our best

FIA JUNIOR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Patrik Sandell / Emil Axelsson

Q:
Congratulations on your first JWRC victory, which also puts you in the lead of the Championship. How are you feeling?
PS:
I feel wonderful, everything is perfect. It’s my first victory, my first year, we start trying to get as much experience as possible, and you see what happened! We had some problems with the engine, the stages are difficult, and you can’t change things on the run, even if you realise that something’s wrong. So I kept pushing, and here we are!

Q:
It was a very tricky rally, particularly in terms of tyre wear and overheating. Did you have any problems over the three days?
EA:
No, just today, when we were one kilometre from the finish line we had an engine problem, but nothing serious.

Q:
How much confidence does this result give you? Are you confident that you will be fighting for more victories over the course of the season? Does the fact that you are leading the Championship change your approach to the year - will you be driving for points rather than outright wins?
PS:
We’ll surely fight, but we’ll see, the league is difficult and it’s a tough Championship. I think we have good chances trying to keep the head of the list, but the point is finishing every race, getting experience and improving ourselves and the car.

Q:
What is your programme now for the rest of the year?
EA:
We’ll try to do as much as possible to get better…we’ll see if we’ll be the strongest.